The most recent roundup of earnings among carriers shows trucking is significantly better off that it was a year go. In many cases, carriers have ventured well into the double-digit level of profitability growth.

Truckload giant Werner Enterprises saw its profit increase 11% to $22.0 million, compared to $19.9 million in 1Q 2005.

“Freight demand was slightly softer in January and February 2006 compared to a stronger freight market in January and February 2005,” noted Werner. “Freight demand continued to show softness in March 2006 but was about the same as March 2005, due principally to an easier comparison caused by a decline in seasonally adjusted freight demand from February 2005 to March 2005. For much of first quarter 2006, freight demand was geographically weaker in the western United States.”

Heartland Express said its net income increased 30.8% for the quarter ending March 31, compared to $19.7 million from $15.1 million in the 2005 period.

Knight Transportation Inc. announced its net income increased 24.1%, to $15.8 million from $12.8 million for the same period of 2005. Its revenue before fuel surcharges increased 16.4%, to $129.3 million from $111.1 million in 1Q 2005.

“For the remainder of 2006, we plan to continue to grow our fleet by approximately 15% year over year,” said chairman & CEO Kevin P. Knight. “Assuming GDP growth remains favorable, we believe that our markets will continue to offer an environment for rate increases to offset the additional costs associated with driver pay, fuel and the introduction of the federally mandated 2007 engines.”

Package delivery giant United Parcel Services reported net earnings increased 10.5% to $975 million, driven by a 9% increase in global small package volume.

USA Truck, a medium-haul and dry van truckload carrier, saw a net earning of $3.4 million, a 26.1% increase over $2.7 million in the same quarter last year.

Covenant Transport, which in recent quarters had reported red ink, saw its net loss widen by 36% to $884,000, compared with a loss of $649,000 in 1Q 2005. The loss came in spite of total revenue growth of 9.9% to $151.5 million from $137.9 million in 1Q 2005.